Estimating the Economic Impact of Nature Tourists: A Study of Participants in the Potholes and Prairie Birding Festival1

Nancy M. Hodur, F. Larry Leistritz, and Kara L. Wolfe2


Table of Contents


Study Methods


   Participant Expenditures

   Direct and Total Economic Impacts

   Potential for Future Growth




Rural communities around the country are increasingly looking to the tourism sector as a source of economic growth, and North Dakota’s unique resources support the potential for rural tourism development. Our 62 National Wildlife Refuges, more than any other state, showcase the potential for wildlife-oriented recreation. Over the past decade, hunting and fishing by nonresident sportsmen has increased substantially (Bangsund et al. 2004), which in turn has stimulated the development of outdoor recreation-oriented businesses (Hodur et al. 2004). Many business operators and other community leaders would like to broaden the region’s nature-based tourism sector to include birding and other wildlife viewing, hiking, biking, and similar soft adventure activities. However, little is known about the region’s nature tourists, their backgrounds, interests, and satisfaction with available opportunities.

Previous research has identified nature tourists in general, and particularly birders, as a substantial source of economic activity. However, past studies have produced widely varying estimates, with an Arizona study reporting that visiting nature tourists spent an average of $84 per person while a Nebraska study reported expenditures of $1,875 per visitor. Given the wide range of findings from previous research, a study of participants in a local birding festival offered timely insights regarding this group of nature tourists.

One group trying to capture the economic development potential of North Dakota’s natural resources is Birding Drives Dakota, a non-profit corporation representing several communities formed to promote the Coteau region of central North Dakota as a birding destination. Birding Drives Dakota (BDD) has published a brochure describing area birding opportunities, mapping self guided tours, and offering tips for sighting birds unique to North Dakota, such as the Baird’s Sparrow. The group sponsors an annual event called the Potholes and Prairie Birding Festival. The first festival, held in 2003, was very successful with over 300 participants. This study focused on participants attending the 2004 festival, held in Jamestown, ND June 11-14.

The purpose of the study was to examine the present and potential economic impact of nature tourism in nonmetro areas of North Dakota. Specific objectives included:

1. Determine the residence, demographic characteristics, and expenditures of participants attending the 2004 Potholes and Prairie Birding Festival (the Festival)

2. Estimate the secondary and total economic impacts associated with the Festival, including visiting participants’ expenditures.

3. Examine the potential for further growth in birding and related activities in the region.

Next section:  Study Methods

NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center

Home | 2004 Annual Report